Friday, March 8, 2019
Sure to be remembered as a landmark in Chinese cinema, this intensely felt epic marks a career cut tragically short: its debut director Hu Bo took his life in October 2017, at the age of 29. The protagonist of this modern reworking of the tale of Jason and the Argonauts is teenage Wei Bu, who critically injures a school bully by accident. Over a single, eventful day, he crosses paths with a classmate, an elderly neighbor, and the bully’s older brother, all of them bearing their own individual burdens, and all drawn as if by gravity to the city of Manzhouli, where a mythical elephant is said to sit, indifferent to a cruel world. Full of moody close-ups and virtuosic tracking shots, An Elephant Sitting Still is nothing short of a masterpiece. A New Directors/New Films 2018 selection. A KimStim release with support from the Beijing Contemporary Art Foundation and the China Institute.
Read Aliza Ma’s feature on the film from the March-April 2019 issue of Film Comment:
As cycles of cultural production and consumption are increasingly beset with carefully calibrated career-advancing controversies and histrionics, the notion of true sacrifice for one’s art, of genuine risk-taking, of a cinema inextricable from the toil of lived reality can seem more remote than ever. The titular animal in Hu Bo’s An Elephant Sitting Still is a fabled creature in inner Mongolia’s Manzhouli, the odd object of preoccupation for the film’s four dissipated characters that is at once ancient and stoic; an inanimate, timeworn witness to human atrocities and a symbol of resistance against a hostile world of smugness and decadence—in short, an apt metaphor for the pursuit of such a pure cinema. But in the time following the film’s tormented production as its writer-director-editor took his own life at 29 years old, An Elephant Sitting Still and its emblem also became inevitably imbued with a sense of individual tragedy and isolation, becoming an arresting epitaph to a fierce artistic spirit and sadly truncated personal history.